No Smoke Without Ire

I sit in a small office with some charming people, but all of them smoke and I don't. Other people from other offices take this to mean that our office is some sort of smoking room (yeurch) and sometimes I can't see for the plumes of smoke. How can I tell them to cut it out without seeming like a killjoy?

Mark, Grantham

UNCLE ONY: Calmly, pleasantly, non- aggressively, but firmly make your position clear when someone lights up. Say something like: "Please do not smoke that cigarette in here. The smoke is damaging not only to your health but to mine." The concern you express for the well-being of your smoking friends should defuse any adverse reaction.

AUNTIE AG: Oh, for heaven's sake, Ony, he doesn't want to go down in company history as the most sanctimonious prig to stalk the office. For the next few weeks, angel, do nothing whatsover. Look on your smoking colleagues with a benign eye (though don't over-do things and start handing them ashtrays and encouraging them, because that will look suspicious). Then, without warning, when the smoke is high one day, throw a sudden seizure. This is hard to do convincingly, sweetheart, so do practise at home. Choke, flail alarmingly, take the rest of the day off. Then explain that your doctor has diagnosed a severe allergy to tobacco smoke. All your friends will go off like lambs to smoke elsewhere, because these days, darling, allergies are absolutely bloody sacred and everyone bends over backwards to accommodate them.


Hello again. I wrote to you a few weeks ago about my chocolate addiction (I was the one that had to rifle through colleagues' drawers in search of some) and you were most helpful (if a bit off track about the sex life, which is very healthy, actually, and about the only time I don't eat chocolate is when I'm making out). Thing is, I have now replaced choc with coffee and I have started to shake uncontrollably. I think I have an addictive personality, so what would be a good thing for me to get addicted to?

Emily, Frome

UNCLE ONY: How nice to hear from you again. I'm glad I was of some use. Sadly, one cannot simply conjure up an addiction to, say, carrots or wheatgrass juice. I would suggest a therapist who practises aversion therapy. He or she will force you to drink coffee until you are violently sick and that will cure your current penchant.

AUNTIE AG: Simplest thing in the world, angel: switch to decaf, and drink as much coffee as you like.


Two days ago, we had a big office party and I ended up shagging one of the men I work with. That's not a problem as such, but I left my knickers behind and someone found them yesterday and put them up on the notice board with some very unfair remarks. They are quite distinctive but, so far, no-one knows they are mine. One person does, a girlfriend that I have fallen out with, who also works in the office. She is luckily on holiday for all of next week, but I am besides myself with worry because she will recognise them and tell everybody. The guy I shagged is a sad case and everyone will think I am mad. I can't just take them off the notice board because everyone has seen them now. Should I resign?

Suzy, London SW4

UNCLE ONY: In what way are these knickers distinctive? Their colour, cut, silkiness, brevity, or laciness? In any case, no matter. If, as you say, "shagging" one of your "sad" colleagues is "not a problem", then why is facing up to the consequences? I think you should be focusing your shame and guilt on your actions rather than their after-effects. Be prepared to ride out your colleagues' ridicule, learn your lesson with good grace, and hope someone else does something even worse at the next party.

AUNTIE AG: On no account resign or confess, angel. Purchase a number of pairs of knickers, similar in style to the offending pair. Over the next few days, slip in early or stay late and leave one pair round the office each day - in the photocopier, draped on a pot plant, under your boss's desk - I leave it to your imagination. Knicker confusion will reign, and when your girlfriend comes back, she won't recognise your particular pair among all the knicker clones floating around. And, in future, beware of shagging sad cases, especially at office parties - it always ends in tears.


I cannot stop flirting with my colleagues. Female, male, it doesn't matter. I think I'm getting a bit of a name for myself but it's like an addiction. What can I do?

Helen, Hull

UNCLE ONY: Such attention-seeking tactics, Helen, are usually the symptom of that old enemy, low self-esteem; you are desperate to prove to everyone that you are attractive, but in fact, such neediness is a most unattractive trait. Concentrate on building office skills that don't rely on physical allure (extra-fast typing, perhaps, or knowing how to unjam the photocopier) and take pride in the praise you receive for those instead.

AUNTIE AG: Oh, darling, don't worry. If you really do it to everyone, they will know you aren't serious. And being flirted with, if it's done with charm and a light touch, is delightful. Far better being charming and flirtatious at work than a miserable, prune-faced, old bag (and sadly, they are far more common).